Mealtimes can be a challenging experience for kids with swallowing difficulties. These difficulties can make eating and drinking stressful and frustrating, and it can even make the thought of having a meal incredibly daunting. However, with the right strategies and a bit of creativity, you can make mealtimes fun and enjoyable.
Here are a few effective ways to make mealtimes a more engaging experience for children with dysphagia.
Create a Playful Vibe
The key to making mealtimes more fun for kids with dysphagia is to create a playful vibe around the table. For example, engage the imagination and turn each meal into an adventure. You can do this by theming your meals according to your child’s preferences. For instance, if they have a passion for animals, a jungle-themed menu with fun items such as a lion’s mane snack board will pique their interest. On the other hand, kids who love pirates can create a swashbuckling adventure using ingredients from the sea.
By choosing a theme for each meal, you can stimulate their interest in mealtimes and distract them from any negative feelings they have towards eating.
Dress the Table with Fun Accessories
Besides creating a playful atmosphere during mealtimes, you can elevate the dining experience further by dressing the table with fun accessories. For example, character-themed placemats, bendy forks, and colorful straws can boost the visual appeal of your table.
Additionally, utensils, bowls, and plates in vivid colors, or designed with their favorite TV characters, will add an element of excitement to the table and will encourage children to participate in mealtimes.
Experiment with Flavors and Textures
When it comes to tactile stimulation, experiment with different flavors and textures to identify foods and drinks your child actually enjoys. By exploring a variety of options together, you can also make the process more fun, which will help your child become more comfortable with different types of textures.
Try using different methods of cooking to create meals, such as braising and slow cooking. Blending and pureeing fruit and vegetables is another great way to create healthy meals that are easy to swallow. Alternatively, products such as the SimplyThick gel thickening agent can be added to a variety of beverages, such as juice or milk, to create a consistency that is easier to swallow. Remember, though, it is important to consult a healthcare professional when using a new product for the first time.
Use Visual Stimulation
Kids with swallowing difficulties often have sensory problems that may affect their dining experience. Therefore, to make mealtimes more enjoyable, try to incorporate visual and tactile stimulation. You can do this by creating visually appealing food arrangements and presenting meals in a creative and appetizing way.
Arrange food items in fun shapes such as stars and silly faces, or use cookie cutters to cut out harder-to-create shapes such as rockets and animals. Additionally, try to use contrasting colors in your meals.
By investing some time and effort into the way you present your food, you can make a huge difference in the way a child perceives the taste of a dish.